From left: MHS Class of 2019 Salutatorian Nikita Goswami and Valedictorian Ivan Chau.
Photo by Delaney McCaffrey
VALEDICTORIAN IVAN CHAU
Walking through the halls of Montgomery High School, Ivan Chau is just another student excited to graduate. But this National Merit Scholar is an accomplished app-developer who can now also add valedictorian to his already long list of accolades.
As a few of his classmates jokingly call out, “Hey is that the valedictorian?!” Chau’s humility shines through as he blushes and laughs, waving back to his friends.
“What I’ve been focusing on during high school is trying to explore different areas of science to see what I was interested in,” Chau said. Through extracurriculars such as Science Olympiad and TEAMS (Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics and Science), he has been able to apply what he learns through problem-solving, while evolving as a leader.
Chau’s real passion though is computer science, a field he will continue to explore next year at Columbia University.
Learning his first programming language at the age of 12, he has continued to develop his skills inside and outside the classroom.
As the vice president of the computer science club, Chau has taught coding camps for elementary schoolers, helped start the first hackathon at MHS called MontyHacks, and developed an application called GradeCheck, which is widely used by students throughout the high school.
GradeCheck interfaces with the school district's online grade-book system Genesis. By scraping the data from the site, Chau adapted the app to make viewing grades more user-friendly, and to allow students to pinpoint exactly where they are struggling in a particular class.
Chau started working on developing the app during his sophomore year, when he realized how many of his classmates were struggling with the current system. He thought this would be a great opportunity to have student life become more interwoven into the smartphones that are such a large part of day-to-day life.
Midway through his junior year, Chau said the app really took off, quickly jumping to 1,000 users. Now GradeCheck is used by more than 2,400 people, which is more than the number of students enrolled at MHS.
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“From what I’ve heard it’s actually in the middle school as well,” Chau said.
The app is available in the App Store under “GradeCheck Montgomery.” Chau noted that it’s listed under his father’s name, since he is too young to have his own developer account.
When it comes to being named valedictorian, Chau says that while he has always strived to work hard, valedictorian was never a goal for him.
“I’m not really fond of this individual award, I think everyone is a product of their own influences,” he said, citing the impact his teachers and friends had on constantly encouraging him to keep doing better.
As he worked to prepare his valedictorian speech, Chau said he sees this as an opportunity to show how Montgomery has shaped him.
“One thing that has pleasantly surprised me about Montgomery is how everybody seems to be really open to delving into new interests,” he said, “I think what makes this school so special.”
SALUTATORIAN NIKITA GOSWAMI
Finding her passion in the arts, Nikita Goswami has broken free from all salutatorian stereotypes.
As a member of the National Art Honors Society (NAHS) and captain of stage crew, her large-scale projects display her creative side.
From seeing the finished sets in the school musical to attending a society event that took many months to plan, Goswami said she is fulfilled by seeing the final product of her hard work.
“I was struggling to find something that would combine my love for art and my love for science and math,” she said. That’s when she stumbled upon architecture, a career path that seemed to perfectly overlap her interests. This fall, Goswami will be starting a five-year architecture program at Syracuse University.
Goswami found the college application process particularly tough. “My parents went to college in India, so for me I was doing this completely on my own for the first time,” she said, describing the immense relief she felt once everything was completely turned in.
Just two weeks before graduation Goswami was sitting in Spanish class when she was called down to the main office to be told she was the salutatorian. “I was completely shocked,” she said, “I thought I was in trouble or something!”
While she thinks grades shouldn’t matter as much as they do, Goswami is proud of her accomplishment. “It’s cool to think that through all these years of high school, through all the work that I’ve done, I kind of did end up earning something special for it,” she said.
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Moving to Montgomery during her sophomore year, things haven’t always been easy for Goswami. While she enjoyed the diversity of MHS, the academic rigor was a big step up from her previous school. Even though it took a long time for her to adjust, ultimately she ended up liking Montgomery.
Goswami described the move as a fundamental experience. “I had to change everything about my life,” she said, “My friends, my environment ... I think that’s something I will carry with me.”
While college is often known for being a time when people grow up the most, Goswami thinks that being a teenager in 2019 has changed a lot of things.
“Now we’re so connected to everyone, we kind of grow up faster than we need to,” she said. “You get exposed to so many things earlier on. Even though I’m 17 now, I feel like there are parts of me that became an adult a long time ago, and other parts of me that still need to mature and grow.”
As she looks towards the future, Goswami is excited for the new experiences and friends that college will bring. “Right now, given that it’s the end of the year, I’m so excited (for it to end) but I know once I step out of these doors I’m probably going to start crying out of nostalgia,” she said. ■